A Jefferson County judge on Monday ordered a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation of county employees that included raids to seize public computers.
Associate Judge Jerry Crisel also ordered the Madison County state's attorney's office to represent County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, Information Technology Head Rob Dorman, County Administrator Doug Hulme and former County Administrator Steve Adler in any further civil action regarding the search warrants that led to the raids.
Crisel was appointed to hear the case after every Madison County judge claimed a conflict.
Crisel found there was a conflict of interest between State's Attorney Tom Gibbons' office and Prenzler, Dorman, Hulme and Adler and removed Gibbons' office from any investigation or prosecution of the county employees. Crisel appointed the Illinois attorney general's office to oversee the investigation and to "carry out that task with all deliberate speed."
Gibbons has maintained that his office was not involved in the investigation, but because of his responsibility to represent county employees, including the administration, Crisel found that could slow the investigation, and "it could damage not only the reality of justice, but the perception as well."
Crisel also denied Prenzler and the other county officials' request to appoint private counsel to represent them at county expense because the "sitting state's attorney is still charged with that duty, the conflict having been removed."
"We respectfully accept the decision of the Court and will remain - as we have throughout this process - independent of the investigative work of the Madison County Public Corruption Task Force, while they continue investigating possible illegal conduct. I have full confidence in the Office of the Attorney General to serve as the Special Prosecutor in these matters and ensure justice for the Citizens of Madison County," Gibbons wrote in a statement released on Wednesday morning.
"In the meantime, we will continue to fulfill the responsibilities of the State’s Attorney’s Office as civil legal counsel for all County offices, including the County Administration."
Crisel found that a conflict was created when Gibbons received information in December that there appeared to be evidence of criminal activity on the part of the Madison County administration, so Gibbons contacted the Illinois State Police and other law enforcement agencies and asked them to create a multijurisdictional independent task force.
The next month, the task force then began its investigation, initiating search warrants on Madison County administration offices, including the offices of Dorman, Hulme and public relations officer Cynthia Ellis. More search warrants were issued in May.
After receiving the information, Gibbons called for the formation of an investigative task force comprising state, county and local law enforcement to “investigate and determine the extent of wrongdoing,” according to a press release issued by Gibbons’ office.
“The search warrants executed today are the result of significant evidence developed by the Madison County Public Corruption Task Force, as part of a larger, ongoing investigation,” Gibbons wrote in the release. “Because of the highly sensitive nature of the investigation, no comments will be made by investigators or others until such time as is legally appropriate. At that point, we will make information available to the public and media.”
When the information obtained by the task force was presented, it was Gibbons' office that presented it, Crisel noted.
While Gibbons was ordered to represent Prenzler and the others in civil matters related to the investigation, if the case turns up any criminal wrongdoing, those indicted must hire an attorney in those matters at their own expense, the judge said.